Question: When does a defensive missile system become offensive?
Answer: When offensive missiles are no longer capable of penetrating the defensive, anti-missile system.
Although that is the very purpose of a missile shield – to protect one’s territory from an adversary’s missile strike – defense can turn to offense in a split second, as any football fan can readily understand.
Or to employ a different sporting analogy, imagine two gladiators, armed with equal-sized swords, fighting inside of a ring. After much strenuous clashing of metal, neither one of the warriors can gain an advantage over the other; finally, the match ends in a tightly contested draw.
The next day, the two fighters are led back into the ring, but this time around one of them is provided with a large shield, in addition to a sword. Immediately it is possible to say that the man who is armed with the shield and sword has suddenly acquired an advantage over the man with only a sword.
So what are the options left for the contestant that does not have access to a protective shield? There seem to be just two: increase the strength and size of the force in order to render the opponent’s shield less effective, or exhibit extremely talented swordplay.
Presently, this is the quandary in which Russia now finds itself: The United States, on the pretext of protecting parts of Europe from a possible rogue missile attack, will build elements of its anti-missile defense shield in Romania, a NATO member country, formerly part of the Warsaw Pact.
The US Department of Defense issued (Sept. 14, 2009) a four-phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe (see 'Timeline for US Missile Defense,' below).
Meanwhile, Washington and NATO are attempting to play down the negative consequences of wide-scale missile defense, calling it purely defensive in nature. But this is nothing more than an exercise in semantics. The very moment that the US missile defense system is proven impenetrable is the moment that an arms race of unprecedented proportions will break out. Actually, it may be happening already.
“Understanding that this trend [toward greater missile defense systems] destabilizes global security,” Vladimir Kozin, head of the analytical section of the Asia-Pacific department at the Foreign Ministry, wrote in the Moscow Times, “many nations are proposing a pact that would limit the deployment of a nation’s missile defense system to its home territory only.”
Kozin concluded that if such an agreement fails to materialize, “we will be faced with both a missile defense arms race and another offensive arms race as well.”
Nikolay Makarov, the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff, did not mince his words when he told reporters last month: "The development and establishment of the (U.S.) missile shield is directed against the Russian Federation."
"Despite the declarations of those statesmen who say that, on the contrary, it provides for our security, that's far from the case," Makarov added. "For this reason it's completely understandable that we have a very negative attitude about this issue.”
Timeline for US missile defense
• Phase One (in the 2011 timeframe) – Deploy current and proven missile defense systems available in the next two years, including the sea-based Aegis Weapon System, the SM-3 interceptor (Block IA), and sensors such as the forward-based Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance system (AN/TPY-2), to address regional ballistic missile threats to Europe and our deployed personnel and their families;
• Phase Two (in the 2015 timeframe) – After appropriate testing, deploy a more capable version of the SM-3 interceptor (Block IB) in both sea- and land-based configurations, and more advanced sensors, to expand the defended area against short- and medium-range missile threats;
• Phase Three (in the 2018 timeframe) – After development and testing are complete, deploy the more advanced SM-3 Block IIA variant currently under development, to counter short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missile threats; and
• Phase Four (in the 2020 timeframe) – After development and testing are complete, deploy the SM-3 Block IIB to help better cope with medium- and intermediate-range missiles and the potential future ICBM threat to the United States.
So it was with some surprise that this comment from the Pentagon surfaced just last week:
“There are aspects to their [Russia’s] nuclear doctrine, their military activities that we find very troubling,” said Michèle Flournoy, Defense Department undersecretary for policy.
In an interview with the Financial Times.
She said that, while Obama had stressed “the importance of reducing the role of nuclear weapons . . . if you read recent Russian military doctrine they are going in the other direction, they are actually increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons, the role in nuclear weapons in their strategy.”
The Pentagon, apparently, would respond much less aggressively upon discovering that Moscow had plans for planting missile defense in Venezuela, for example, to protect Hugo Chavez from some regional rogue state.
Although Moscow would really like to take Washington at its word that a sophisticated anti-missile system will never compromise Russian security, military doctrines are seldom written according to the promises and pledges of foreign countries, regardless of the present level of relations.
More perplexing, perhaps, is that the United States presents its anti-missile defense system as if it were some sort of static system that will never develop in either size or capabilities. This is misleading to say the least. The United States is moving ahead full steam to develop these technologies.
Just last month, for example, a US airborne laser weapon shot down a ballistic missile in the first successful test of a futuristic directed energy weapon, the US Missile Defense Agency announced.
The powerful airborne laser weapon is ostensibly aimed at deterring enemy missile attacks and providing the US military with the ability to shoot down all classes of ballistic missiles at the speed of light while they are in the boost phase of lift off.
"The revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light, at a range of hundreds of kilometers (miles), and at a low cost per intercept attempt compared to current technologies," the US Missile Defense Agency said, as quoted by Reuters.
Meanwhile, US missile defense architecture is not limited to Eastern Europe.
The US missile defense system “involves using radars in Alaska and California in the US and at Fylingdales in the UK. Another radar is planned for Greenland,” the BBC reported. “Anti-missile missiles, or interceptors, are being based in Alaska (40 of them) and California (four).”
The above installations do not take into account the US interceptors based on ships, which is estimated at over 100.
All said, the best that the world can hope for from America’s ongoing missile defense plans – which, incidentally, are designed to offset hypothetical, unproven threats from Iran or North Korea – is for the American side to co-operate with Russia in all stages of operation of such technologies.
If the United States refuses to provide any level of co-operation, Russia will have its worst fears confirmed as to the true nature and purpose of these “defensive technologies.” At this point, the world may enter another Cuban missile crisis, which will see Moscow drawing a very definite line in the geopolitical sand.
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, in April 2009, that they would work to cut nuclear warheads, but that announcement came before Washington decided to scrap the Bush missile defense system in favor of a new one. Although Moscow was initially receptive toward Obama’s retreat on missile defense, that optimism was quickly clouded as the White House refused to reveal what its new missile defense would entail.
But for now, the international community is waiting for the outcome of the ongoing START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) talks. Russian and US negotiators have been trying to agree upon a successor to the 1991 treaty for almost a year, after both sides allowed the initial deadline of December 5 to pass.
Medvedev and Obama agreed in July that the new treaty would limit operationally deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500-1,675 from current levels of 2,200-2,700.